BNP Paribas Open: Top seed Li Na battles into semi-finals
Last Updated: 14/03/14 6:35am
Li Na: Two wins away from Indian Wells title
Top seed Li Na prevailed 6-3 4-6 6-3 in her Australian Open rematch with Dominika Cibulkova to reach the semi-finals of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.
The world No 2 had won all five previous matches against Cibulkova, most recently in the final in Melbourne, where she secured her second grand slam title.
On that occasion Li was a convincing winner, not dropping a game in the second set, but things were very different in California on Thursday.
Asked if she was happy with her performance, Li said: "Half and half. At least I'm still in the tournament.
"I think it's still a little bit of a problem because my level cannot stay the same from the beginning to the end. At least I got information so I'll take it."
The Chinesewoman made a good start and took the opening set but her forehand lost its radar in the second and Cibulkova raced into a 5-1 lead.
Li recovered three games but could not salvage the set and looked increasingly frustrated as the decider became a dogfight.
But she found her form just in time to win the final three games and clinch victory in a little over two and a half hours and book a last-four clash against Flavia Pennetta.
Li, whose only previous appearance in the semi-finals in Indian Wells was in 2007, is looking to close the rankings gap to world number one Serena Williams, who once again boycotted the tournament.
Pennetta booked her place in the semi-finals after defying a dust storm to defeat Sloane Stephens.
There had already been plenty of twists and turns before the wind whipped up and the Santa Rosa mountains disappeared from view.
Stephens initially seemed to be dealing with the conditions better and, having broken Pennetta when she served for the match in the second set, the American made it six games in a row to lead 3-0 in the decider.
But back came Pennetta and she eventually took her fifth match point to triumph 6-4 5-7 6-4.
Pennetta said: "We didn't have a lot of fun today. I think it was not nice tennis on court.
"The third was a disaster for both of us. I mean, I won. I'm happy because I got through this match, but I don't have a good feeling right now.
"Outside it's crazy. The wind came from nowhere."